by Milo James Fowler
Ray Bradbury wasn’t always Ray Bradbury—not the Ray Bradbury we know and love who blessed us with Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Death Is a Lonely Business, just to name a few.
Once upon a time, Bradbury was just a struggling young writer in love with the craft. He wrote a short story every week, polished it as fast as he could, and submitted it to a magazine. Rejection letters flooded in, mainly due to his prolific submissions: the more you write, the more responses you get. There were also acceptance letters along the way, and they inspired him to keep doing what he loved: telling stories as only he could.
In the fall of 2009, I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Bradbury speak at a local library. Witnessing this great literary figure in the flesh was a surreal experience. I had to keep reminding myself that this was really happening, that I was really there. He spoke about being a “lover of life,” and that, for him, his writing was always a labor of love. I didn’t get a chance to shake his hand or tell him how much I appreciated him; he probably got enough of that already. There was standing room only, and an allotted fifty fans ahead of me were having him sign copies of We’ll Always Have Paris. I’ll always cherish this memory.
I’ve been writing novels since I was twelve years old, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Crafting tales from my imagination, polishing them up, sharing them with friends and family and, eventually, complete strangers—there’s nothing quite like it. In the summer of 2009, I started submitting my work for publication, and in January of 2010, my first short story was published. In the months that followed, I had a few other stories accepted by various publications, and I also collected quite the growing pile of rejection letters along the way. All par for the course.
One of my friends congratulated me after a particular story was published, joking, “You must be writing a story every week!”
Remembering Bradbury’s early years, I replied, “Not yet, but maybe someday!”
Someday turned out to be 2011, when I committed to writing and submitting 52 short stories in 52 weeks—drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and sending them out to publications. My goal was both quantity and quality, and somehow I was going to make it happen despite working full-time as an English teacher.
Writing 1,000-word flash fiction helped create a buffer for my longer works. If I wrote a couple flash-sized tales early in the month and submitted them ahead of schedule, I could then spend the rest of the month on a story that was 5,000 words or more. Once I got into the rhythm of writing, editing, and submitting, I found that my ability to write on demand improved. There wasn’t time for staring at a blank screen and doubting myself. I had to write, and the more I did, the more fluid my process became. Was every story awesome? Nope. With every rejection letter that came in, I tweaked each tale until it was just the way I wanted it and got it back out on the submission circuit. There was no time to obsess over every story; I had more writing to do.
Ray Bradbury’s point was that if you wrote 52 short stories, they couldn’t all be bad. There had to be a few that shone brighter than diamonds in the rough. I found that to be the case as half a dozen of my stories that year were accepted by top-tier SFWA-qualifying publications. But were all 52 of my stories published? It took about three years, but yes indeed, I managed to sell all of them to editors around the world.
The journey of a writer is exhilarating, frustrating, maddening, and life-giving, and I’ve signed up for all of the above. I’m determined to ride out the lows knowing there will be highs just as extreme waiting for me in the future. With everything I write, I’m a step closer to becoming the writer I want to be.
Every writer starts somewhere. My journey began in 6th grade with a manual typewriter and some pretty crazy ideas. I waited twenty years before I started submitting my work for publication. Now I’m making up for lost time.
Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for inspiring me.
Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. Over the past 5 years, his short fiction has appeared in more than 100 publications. Find his novels, novellas, and short story collections wherever books are sold. http://www.milojamesfowler.